As social media has surged in popularity it was probably inevitable that professional services firms would begin to include it as a part of their marketing strategy. But is it effective? What are the key benefits? How do you develop a strategy? These are some of the questions we will address in this post.
Let’s start by defining what a social media marketing strategy is all about.
Social Media Marketing Strategy Defined
Social media marketing strategy is a written document describing how you will use social media in support of strategic marketing goals such as brand building, lead generation or talent acquisition. Social media marketing strategies typically contain the following elements:
- Business purpose to be addressed
- Target audience profiles
- Social media platforms to be used
- Implementation tactics
- Specific goals and measures to be tracked
Often, a social media strategy is part of a more comprehensive marketing plan.
The Strategic Uses of Social Media
Social media can be an important component of your overall marketing strategy. We have identified five primary roles that social media can play in a modern professional services firm.
Social media’s original intended role, as an online networking system, is still important for professional services firms. Treat Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook as an online cocktail party—a way to meet new people and develop important business and client relationships—but without the hangover. And, like a cocktail party, social media is highly reciprocal. People expect replies to their tweets, comments, and questions, and there is an expectation that you will share other people’s content as well as your own.
Social media is one of the easiest and cheapest ways to promote your firm’s content. Creating a social media marketing strategy to promote your content via different channels will help build your reputation and visibility—i.e., your brand.
A word of warning on content promotion, though—it’s important not to overdo self-promotion. Social media is reciprocal, and you need to balance self-promotion with sharing important content created by other industry thought leaders. While there seems to be no widely accepted standard for how much of others’ content to share, there is a bias toward education. Leave your marketing collateral on your website. Educate, don’t hard sell.
SEO (Search Engine Optimization)
Social media has become a valuable way to boost SEO. Think of it as another path to content promotion. There is no solid evidence that search engines are using social media popularity as a gauge of a page’s authority. That would quickly become a target for “black hat” manipulation. However by sharing content widely you attract “natural” links, which have a very clear impact on page authority. So boosting your social media presence should also help your page rank in search engines. Another hidden benefit of social media is that its content is searchable—at least for Twitter and LinkedIn. That means that your tweet, which links back to your website’s blog, may be found by someone doing a simple Google search—another opportunity to gain website traffic.
Social media is a great way to do research. Before you meet with a new client, interview someone for a case study, or hire a new employee, you should check out their social media streams. Regardless of whether they are a corporation or an individual, you will learn a lot about their personality, authority, reputation, and visibility. Social media is also an easy way to research marketplace trends and engage with the competition, keeping you abreast of their initiatives and, perhaps, allowing for advantageous collaboration. This concept of market intelligence is sometimes referred to as social listening.
Social media is a natural recruitment tool, whether it be finding new employees or seeking out business partners. LinkedIn and Facebook let you post highly targeted jobs focusing on users with certain résumé attributes, and provides real-time analytics showing, among other things, who has viewed the post. And of course, LinkedIn is well known as a good place to search for a new position or to find the right talent.
Given these multiple uses, is social media in some way better than more traditional marketing approaches, such as face to face networking? Put another way, what are the benefits to making social media a part of your marketing plan? As it turns out there are several.
The Benefits of Using Social Media For Marketing
As a starting place, most social media platforms are available as “free” applications, even if they also offer premium subscriptions with expanded functionality. And while they are not truly free, as staff time is required to actually use them, they do not require fees, travel expenses, and the vast quantities of professionals’ time consumed by traditional networking.
It also takes less time and effort to spend a few minutes each day posting or commenting on social media than traveling to and attending a networking event. Also, because social media is asynchronous, you do not need to be doing it at a specific time or place. The nature of the interaction is also different and less demanding for some. Many professionals find traditional networking socially uncomfortable. Social media is a welcome alternative for the introverts among us.
By breaking the bonds of time zone and distance, social media allows even the smallest firms to pursue national and even international markets. This applies not only to networking, but to the visibility of your thought leadership and recruiting, as well. A firm from Montana can acquire clients from Manhattan to Mumbai.
Builds your brand
We have long defined your professional services brand as being the product of your reputation and your visibility within your target markets. Importantly, social media can help you hone your reputation and increase your visibility. Think more referrals and easier closes.
One often overlooked key benefit is that social media is inherently scalable.
Even if you are interacting with a single person you are visible (if you so choose) to many. You can accumulate hundreds or even thousands of followers that you can address with a single post. In addition those followers can share your content with others, making you efforts even more scalable. You can add scale without adding infrastructure or expense.
The ROI of Social Media Marketing
Because social media offers so many uses and potential benefits it’s not surprising that many professional services firms are weaving social media into their marketing strategies. A recent Hinge research study showed that more professional services firms use social media networking (52.5%) than use email marketing (48.9%). And firms are using social media to promote thought leadership (36.8%) about as frequently as speaking at targeted events and conferences (34.5%).
While widespread adoption may suggest a good return on investment, there is more direct evidence to consider. In the same study we looked at the marketing techniques used by High Growth firms (firms with compound annual growth rates greater than 20%) and compared them to the techniques used by firms that were stagnant (no growth or a decline). While both groups used social media to about the same extent, High Growth firms found social media to be more effective compared to their No Growth peers.
Clearly, there is something about how firms use social media that is impacting effectiveness and return on investment.
One clue comes from the same study. We found that the High Growth firms enjoy a decided skills advantage. Professionals from High Growth firms were 25% more likely to be rated highly skilled in social media networking.
This raises the intriguing possibility that social media training can drive much higher levels of success. Other research on employee involvement in social media also identified the importance of training. Firms with an established social media employee engagement program tend to grow faster. That kind of a return is hard to ignore.
Of course, the starting place is to develop your strategy. Here’s how to do it the right way.
Developing Your Social Media Marketing Strategy
If you are serious about making social media work for your firm, the place to start is with a social media strategy. In this section we’ll step you through the right way to do it.
Determine the business purpose of your social media program
As we found out earlier, there are a lot of good reasons to develop a social media strategy. The question is, which ones are relevant to your situation?
- Do you need to develop new relationships with your target audience or influencers? Think of this goal as traditional networking using a new communications channel.
- Do you need to promote your educational content and spread new ideas? Social media is a fast and efficient way to reach key audiences.
- Do you want to attract more visitors to your website? Social media activity is becoming an important way to gain valuable natural links that tell search engines that your content is valuable. Think SEO.
- Do you need to research your prospects or competitors? Use social media to get the collective scoop. Find out who works there, what issues they have, how the marketplace views them, and many other pieces of market intelligence.
- Do you need to recruit new employees? They will definitely be checking you out on social media, so you better be ready. Conversely, it can be used to find just the type of employee you are looking for.
It’s important to get your executive, legal, creative, and web teams aligned in the very beginning. Collaboration is crucial to your firm’s social media strategy. Everybody needs to be on the same page to allow for collaboration.
When you have determined which goals are most important and their relative priority, you are ready to take the next step.
Specify and research your target audiences
When choosing a target audience for your social media campaign, don’t be too narrow. Remember that in most complex B2B sales there is rarely just a single decision-maker. Many decision-makers rely on advice from peers or outside consultants, as well as the usual trusted advisors. So it’s a good idea to widen your scope to include all of those potential influencers.
Once you know whom you are trying to reach, it’s time to figure out where they are located, online. This can be done through formal research—systematically polling an audience, online monitoring—or less formally, by simply looking online. Try looking at LinkedIn profiles to see which groups attract your target audience. Many executives routinely include their Twitter handle or LinkedIn profile in their email signature block. Remember, your purpose is to be where they are.
Select the appropriate social media platform(s)
Should we be on Facebook? What about YouTube? And everyone’s been talking about LinkedIn. Many folks select the channel first, then try to figure out what their goal should be. No, no, no, bad idea! Figure out where you need to go to reach your audience. That will determine your social media channel(s). And remember: you don’t need to do it all.
Sometimes it will make sense to be on multiple social media platforms. Each channel is unique and requires a different strategy, so you should consider the characteristics of the different platforms as part of your decision process.
If you are in doubt, start small and build from there. If your social media strategy is focused on B2B, LinkedIn is a safe place to start. Twitter and YouTube are also good fits for most B2B situations. For those in the A/E/C world, check out Instagram. If you are trying to reach non-profits, consumers, or young hires, Facebook is typically a good addition. And don’t forget the more specialized private social forums that are common within many industries.
Pinpoint program goals and measures
Once you have selected your social media channels, it’s time to focus on specific program goals. Why not set program goals earlier? The simple answer is that many of the goals and available measures are very platform-specific. For instance, it would be impossible to measure retweets on LinkedIn.
Program goals and measures generally fall into three broad categories:
- These goals should focus on what you do. For example: How many online discussions did you start? How many tweets are you posting daily? How many videos did you publish last month? The point of these program goals is to track implementation. Here is the harsh reality—if you don’t use social media on a routine basis, it won’t work. Having a specific goal and measurement in place simply makes it more likely that you will accomplish your strategy.
- These goals measure the reach and scope of your activity. You don’t want to send information out into a black hole; you want people to engage with your information, share it, and become interested in your firm. These measurements will let you know if consumers are responding. Your metrics for this goal might include tracking followers, fans, likes, comments, or retweets.
- Is your social media strategy producing the results you seek? Are you getting the new business leads you wanted? Has your industry visibility improved? Have you found the new recruits you need? Fortunately, marketing automation technology has dramatically improved your ability to track these metrics. Free tools like Google Analytics allow you to easily monitor website traffic and new leads coming from social media, and more sophisticated dashboards equip you to track results driven by multiple interactions.
Develop implementation tactics
The great part about social media is that it’s easy to get help. Every day, social media experts are on social media sharing ideas and tips about—you guessed it—social media, and how to do it better. Have a question? All you have to do is ask. This informal system is a built-in mechanism for improving your social media skills, and an invaluable aid for a do-it-yourself strategy.
But DIY isn’t the right strategy for all situations. Just because you have a compelling business reason for developing a social media strategy doesn’t mean you can do everything yourself from the get-go.
These days, there are two viable alternatives to self-help. The first is to employ a social media consultant to help set up your program and policies. This person would train in-house team members, monitor the program, and provide constant support and troubleshooting. This approach allows you to shorten the learning curve while still using inside resources to do the bulk of the implementation.
The second approach is to outsource some roles, or even the entire program. This approach is especially appealing when you have very busy professionals with little available time. It can be more effective and less expensive than taking staff off of billable work. The downside is that the culture of social media revolves around authenticity, which typically implies the active engagement of your staff. This has led to the emergence of hybrid approaches where some functions are outsourced and others are supplemented with available in-house resources.
Whichever approach you take to developing and implementing your social media strategy, remember the most basic truth. A flawed strategy, no matter how enthusiastically implemented, will not produce the desired results. Neither will a brilliant strategy that is only partially implemented. Consistency matters—to see results, you have to stick with the program.
Suppose you don’t see the results that you had expected. What do you do? That’s where troubleshooting comes into play. If you have been measuring implementation and impacts you will be in an excellent position to determine where the problem lies—and what you may be able to do about it.
Start with implementation (Activity). Did it actually happen? Did you get the desired increase in visibility (Reach)? Did they translate into the business outcomes you were seeking (Results)? By following this chain of actions and impacts you can often uncover an obvious problem. And of course, correctly diagnosing the problem is the first step in solving it.
A Final Thought
Social media marketing has become an increasingly important tool in the professional services marketer’s toolbox, and it’s here to stay.
While it cannot do everything, it can do many things very well. From researching new markets to lead generation and brand building, the range of social media uses is formidable.
As its importance in a comprehensive marketing strategy continues to grow, social media marketing is becoming a “must have” tool in firms’ business development toolbox. Increasing numbers of professional services firms are jumping into social media with both feet, realizing that its reach is great while its cost is low. If you are not there, you can bet that your competitors will be.
To gain or maintain a competitive edge, you must be where your clients and referral sources are. And these days, that increasingly means social media.
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How Hinge Can Help
Does you firm need help setting up or delivering a powerful social media program? Hinge offers a full suite of social media planning, training and implementation services. Contact us today.
- Our Social Media Guide for Professional Services is designed to give you everything you need to know to build a comprehensive social media strategy for your firm.
- Are you looking for step-by-step instructions and practical quick-start guides to build your social media skills quickly? Join Hinge University, where we make learning critical skill easy — even for busy professionals like you.
- Keep pace with the marketplace, generate leads and build your reputation all at once: download our free Marketing Planning Guide.